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Testing coordinator Jeff Taylor puts on an explosive performance at Pyromania

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After two months of scripting and a full day of prep, roughly 800 explosives were planted across a massive field in Wright City, Mo. before a crowd of 11,000 people for the annual Pyromania fireworks competition on Oct. 14. Testing coordinator Jeff Taylor meticulously planned out each firework in time with the beat of the music, and the seven minutes of  fireworks earned him the right to bring home the trophy.

“People who like fireworks come from all over the United States, and they put on shows. What we do is called Pro-Am, which is .4 fireworks. They are just consumer fireworks, the kind that anyone can buy. Basically you get a set amount of fireworks you can use, and you can design a script, so your fireworks go to the music,” Taylor said.

Taylor began his career about eight years ago and now participates in the organization Missouri Pyrotechnics. The group meets up about five times a year to shoot off fireworks, sometimes for competitions and sometimes just for fun. At Pyromania, Taylor was chosen to script out the fireworks.

You can use any kind of music if you are smart enough and know how to do it.”

— Jeff Taylor

“There’s a difference between shooting off fireworks to the music and shooting off fireworks with music. A lot of big shows have fireworks and play music, but the shots aren’t timed. I’ve gotten to the point where I will time it to make sure the shots are at the right time,” Taylor said. “I have a program on my computer that allows me to design and match the song with the music. We upload that to an electronic firing system, and in this case it’s called Cobra. It’s all electronically fired.”

At Pyromania, Taylor ran with a Halloween-esque theme, shooting fireworks in sync with songs from “Harry Potter,” “The Purge” and “The Walking Dead.”

“The Harry Potter one was fun because it was a challenge since it was a slow song. I wanted that magic, swirly, cascading type look,” Taylor said. “I’ll listen to songs and envision what I can do in my head. It can’t be really fast, but it can’t be really slow. It has to have an up and down pattern to it. You can use any kind of music if you are smart enough and know how to do it.”

Taylor and his eight man crew spent the entire day before the competition setting up the fireworks. Though time-consuming, it is essential that the fireworks are planted firmly and are the correct distance away from the crowd. In fact, the performance before Taylor’s ended with two crew members burned after an explosive fell over.

“You can have issues with it not firing off, and you can have issues with it not firing. You can have issues with things catching on fire. Shells can break before they leave the tube and knock over things. You see it all,” Taylor said. “When you’re out there, you’re basically handling explosives. You’re pushing things into it, you’re tearing it apart. If you’re careless and don’t pay attention, it’s going to hurt you. Luckily, none of us have ever been hurt and hopefully never will.”
After the accident, Taylor’s crew double checked that their fireworks were safely in position before starting the show. But shortly into the second song, Taylor realized something was wrong.

When you hear that crowd screaming and applauding for what you did—that’s the best feeling in the world.”

— Jeff Taylor

“I saw it, and I was wondering why it wasn’t shooting off right. They were supposed to go off right at the beat, but it was two seconds off. This year, I put a two second gap in between the two songs, but I forgot to put it in the computer,” Taylor said. “Luckily, there is something on the system where you can push it two seconds ahead, so the finale was correct.”

Although he came away with a victory, this year was Taylor’s first time in a major competition, not to mention he was going up against last year’s Pyromania Pro-Am champions.

“[The win] was honestly a surprise,” Taylor said. “We watched the first show and thought, ‘Oh, we can beat them.’ The second show started off good, but then they started shooting off in the crowd. I don’t think anyone expected us to win.”

However, the win was not the best part of the competition for Taylor.

“When you hear that crowd screaming and applauding for what you did—that’s the best feeling in the world. The first time I heard that kind of applause was when I was down at the Lake of the Ozarks, the third show I set the music. When it was all done, you could hear the whole crowd all around the lake just cheering and the boats honking the horn. That’s when I knew it was what I wanted to do,” Taylor said.

Although Taylor will most likely not compete until next year, Taylor’s team is competing in Moscow Mills. He is also already planning on ways to up the ante next year at Pyromania.

“Next year, we are going to have at least two other teams competing against us. It’s not only that you want to get the trophy but it’s bragging rights,” Taylor said. “Next time, I’m sure they will come back for vengeance, so we will have to bring our A-game.”

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Testing coordinator Jeff Taylor puts on an explosive performance at Pyromania